Like any good American, I am a staunch supporter of our military personnel. As such, I was shocked to learn that some supposedly pro-troop Americans have chosen to decry a fascinating new recruitment tool recently employed by the U.S. Army.
Dubbed the Army Experience Center, this 14,500-square-foot facility inside a Philadelphia shopping mall houses full-scale simulators of armed military vehicles like Apache helicopters and Humvees. Participants can enter these sophisticated vehicles and navigate treacherous virtual combat zones, and afterward perhaps have a casual chat with a recruiter.
Naysayers claim that such devices — despite their sophistication in replicating highly complex technical systems — fail to accurately convey the experience of military service; that is, the inherent mortality of a real-life soldier is glossed over when players can simply retry a failed mission until they succeed. Despite this claim, I posit that these machines offer a far more true-to-life experience than the myriad virtual recruitment tools conceived for other purposes that were at one time abundant in the very same youth-centric shopping centers.
Take, for instance, the fast-food industry’s line-cook training simulator BurgerTime. As a young adult, I honed my burger-crafting skills for months on this device. But when I obtained a job at a local fast-food establishment, my triumph was short-lived. How was I to know that burgers could not be created by stepping on the ingredients? That pickles did not need to be sprayed with pepper to make them stop giving chase?
My own brother fell prey to another such device. Enthralled by the media industry’s paper-delivery simulator Paperboy, he took on our hometown’s busiest paper route. He couldn’t have known that on an actual paper route, a week’s worth of papers could not be delivered in a matter of minutes. He was even more crushed to learn that the paper’s front-page headlines would never proclaim his achievements, even after a week of perfectly delivered newspapers.
And we both were taken in during the experimental phase of youth by that damnable simulator Q*bert, which I am still convinced was an ill-conceived representation of the positive effects of methamphetamines on the mind, no doubt implemented by well-connected drug traffickers.
If the detractors of military simulations can only come up with one possible inaccuracy, then these new tools certainly receive my blessing. If anything, I feel the army should borrow a page from Dr. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and take recruitment to the next level. Weed out the best players, put them in special matches, and then reveal to them afterward that the simulation was actually live combat and they’ve killed thousands of real enemies. Who could walk away from that? •